Feast of St. Teresa of Avila – Reformer of the Carmelite Order

by Donal Anthony Foley
teresa_v_avila_w-300x217St Teresa of Jesus, or better known as St Teresa of Avila, was the great female saint of the Counter-Reformation period. Born in 1515, just two years before Luther started his revolt against the Catholic Church, she died in October 1582, by which time Protestantism was pretty well established in Northern Europe. So, she lived through very turbulent times.

She is most famous for the series of reforms of the Carmelite Order for which she, along with St John of the Cross, was responsible, and also as a writer and great contemplative and mystic. She was canonized only 40 years after her death and declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1970.

Avila is a beautiful walled town situated at a height of nearly 4,000 feet, midway between Madrid and Salamanca. I visited it quite a few years ago when I was involved in planning a walking Pilgrimage across Spain from Britain to Fatima. I was able to visit the Convent of the Incarnation where she lived, worked and prayed, and see the museum dedicated to her. The landscape around Avila is dry and somewhat desolate – in contrast to Portugal, which is much greener. Certainly I remember that when we did actually do the pilgrimage, we were much relieved to reach Portugal after the heat and dust of Spain!

St Teresa’s paternal grandfather was a Marrano, that is a Jewish convert to Christianity, and over time her family was assimilated into Spanish society – which was strongly Catholic at the time. As a child she attempted to run away and become a martyr among the Moors, and later she became somewhat addicted to reading medieval romances – which were tales about medieval chivalric activities, rather than Romances in the modern sense.

Her mother died when she was 14, and this event resulted in a deepening devotion to Our Lady as her spiritual mother. As she said at the time: “I threw myself down in despair before an image of the Mother of God. With many tears, I implored the Holy Virgin to become my mother now. Uttered with the simplicity of a child, this prayer was heard. From that hour on, I never prayed to the Virgin in vain.

But God was calling her, and in 1515, unknown to her father, she entered the Carmelite convent in Avila. The Carmelite Order is of course particularly associated with devotion to the Blessed Virgin. This order dates from around the 12th century and originated on Mount Carmel in the Holy Land.

However, the Carmel in Avila was not particularly strict and for many years St. Teresa led a fairly mediocre prayer life, even though she had experienced various visions and other spiritual occurrences. When she had related these, though, she was persuaded that they were the work of the devil, and it wasn’t until she was in her 40s that she resolutely embraced a life of contemplative prayer.

Devotion to St. Joseph

st-josephShe was very much devoted to St Joseph and credited him with great intercessory power saying, “I do not remember even now that I have ever asked anything of him which he has failed to grant. I am astonished at the great favors which God has bestowed on me through this blessed saint, and at the perils from which He has freed me, both in body and in soul. To other saints the Lord seems to have given grace to succor us in some of our necessities but of this glorious saint my experience is that he succors us in them all and that the Lord wishes to teach us that as He was Himself subject to him on earth (for, being His guardian and being called His father, [St. Joseph] could command Him) just so in Heaven He still does all that he asks.

Edith Stein, the famous German Jewish philosopher, was converted to the faith by reading an autobiography of St. Teresa. She picked up the book one evening in 1921 and was so captivated by it, she stayed up all night to read it. When she finished the book she said to herself, “This is the truth.” She herself became a Carmelite nun in 1934, taking as her religious name, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, and just over 20 years later in 1942, she died a martyr in Auschwitz.

lucia4-200x300Sr. Lucia of Fatima also became a Carmelite, in 1948, taking the name Sister Maria Lucia of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart, after originally being a Dorothean sister. In June, 1921, when she was to depart Fatima for an unknown path, she was praying ardently at the Cova da Iria, begging the Blessed Virgin to help her bear this sacrifice. Our Lady appeared to her a seventh time, telling her to “follow the path which the Bishop wants you to take; this is the Will of God.” Sr. Lucia wrote in her memoirs, “I remembered Our Lady of Mount Carmel (at the October apparition), and in that moment I felt the grace of a vocation to religious life and the attractiveness of the Cloister of Carmel.” She faithfully followed in the footsteps of St Teresa and lived the Carmelite life for nearly 60 years, until her death in 2005.

St Teresa of Avila, pray for us.

Donal Anthony Foley is the author of a number of books on Marian Apparitions, including Marian Apparitions, the Bible, and the Modern World, and maintains a related web site at www.theotokos.org.uk. He has also a written a time-travel/adventure book for young people – details can be found at: http://glaston-chronicles.co.uk

 

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